First Data Strikes Back at Visa

E-commerce payments and credit card processor First Data , which is engaged in a legal brawl with Visa International over the processing of transactions, filed a countersuit accusing Visa of “anti-competitive and monopolistic practices.”

The suit follows on the heels of legal action taken by Visa last April attempting to block the expansion of credit card transaction processing through First Data’s First Data Net. In August Visa reportedly added a ban on all such private processing arrangements.

At issue is whether all Visa card transactions have to be processed through Visa’s network. Visa rules stipulate that all transactions initiated with Visa-branded cards must pass through the VisaNet authorization and settlement network.

Denver-based First Data says its network enables direct connections between merchant acquirers and card issuing banks, eliminating unnecessary detours in the payment process.

Visa argues that First Data, the nation’s largest processor of merchant card transactions, threatens to harm the Visa brand name with a new service that lowers costs by keeping transactions in-house.

“The suit that Visa filed against First Data in April 2002, and Visa’s subsequent decision to completely ban all private arrangements, are efforts to stifle a competitive challenge – not to protect the payment system as Visa alleges,” said Eula L. Adams, senior executive vice president of First Data. “First Data’s effort to defend against this suit is an effort to allow competition in the marketplace that leads to innovation and broader choices for everyone.”

Visa called the countersuit “baseless” and said it remains “unwilling to risk compromising the Visa payment system … by allowing a vendor like First Data that processes Visa transactions to sidestep the rules that they had contractually agreed to honor and which make the system work.”

“First Data’s proposed ‘private arrangement’ would have represented a fundamental change in the Visa payment system, because a significant volume of Visa-branded transactions would be completed by First Data, outside of Visa’s systems,” Visa said. “An extensive review determined that such an arrangement would have jeopardized Visa’s reliability, superior anti-fraud system, fair dispute resolution service, and the ability to introduce and support new card products and services, negatively affecting cardholders, merchants and issuers alike.”

Visa meanwhile has been aggressively extending its prepaid platform and recently introduced it in China as an
extension of its u-commerce, or universal platform for payment enablement.

First Data also is extending its reach into China with the formation of First Data (China) Co. Ltd. — a wholly owned subsidiary that will provide a full range of payment technology and services there.

The company said it will establish operations in Shanghai, including an administrative office and a data center. The Shanghai operations are scheduled to be fully operational in the first quarter of 2003.

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